Many years ago, mariner wrote a paper about touching. The recent surge of “Me Too” responses from abused women has sparked several conversations that, on the whole, attempt to establish boundaries and definitions about sexual contact and the larger sphere of touching in general.
The premise of mariner’s paper is that touching others is an important bonding gesture. Obviously, unwarranted touching related to sexual expression is not the type of touching under discussion. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath!
Mariner’s paper is titled “Elderly life – the Touching Desert.”
Consider a typical childhood: parents and children constantly hug, fondle, kiss, touch and otherwise take positions where one is in physical contact with another. How often has one seen a small child hugging its mother’s leg while she is having a conversation? Touching is critical to the development of self-confidence and assuredness that one is loved and appreciated without judgment.
Touching is governed by social circumstance. Lovers have a liberal collection of moments when affection for each other is assured or when reassurance is needed, or simply to acknowledge one another in passing. Consider the holidays when the family gathers together: hugging all around, affectionate posturing, and often an actual need just to make contact; these gestures are a form of renewing the bond between family members. Imagine if everyone visited for the holidays but there was no physical contact between them. An observer would sense that something is wrong.
The geographic region also has an effect on the manner of touching. Mariner wrote his paper while living in a large city on the East Coast; the manner of touching was more easily accepted and one may even feel rejected if they were not touched in a meaningful way, for example a hug and lingering touch on the shoulder. In a social situation, sitting on a sofa together, touching shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip was de rigeuer.
The Midwest is more sensitive about touching – especially in rural areas. Not everyone, of course, but for a notable percentage, a hug when greeting is executed with as little actual touching as possible. If someone touches an arm for a moment or takes a hand to have a conversation, these gestures are noticeably disconcerting. Mariner surmises that the intimate circle, that is, the foot and a half space around one’s body, cannot be encroached upon for suspicion of ulterior motives – whatever they may be.
The paper makes the point that minimizing or even preventing touching establishes isolationism in an individual. Socialization becomes a practiced dance that excludes reinforcement of acceptance from and appreciation for others. An invisible wall eliminates any ‘heart-felt’ feelings one may want to express or have expressed to them. It makes the point, too, that the elderly, simply by their less engaged life style, are victims of isolation because they are seldom touched in an expressive manner. A firm, dare mariner say, an engaging hug will link a mutual bond for a long time. In recent years, men have learned to have expressive hugs with other men. Surely this helps civilization.
Mariner remembers distinctly a family situation where the family gathered for a holiday. The grandfather was at least a generation older, slower moving, and less expressive. Most family members greeted the grandfather in a minimal, respectful way until the four year old great-grandson ran up to the grandfather with open arms to be swept up in a warm greeting. The grandfather came to life as if a light switch had been turned on.
Touching, especially meaningful hugs, is important – especially for the elderly.